Kenya: Countering and transforming radicalisation and extremism

l-r: Paulson Erot Tadeo, Asha Awed Said,  and Esther Njeri Kibe -  Image: Shalom - SCCRR

l-r: Paulson Erot Tadeo, Asha Awed Said, and Esther Njeri Kibe - Image: Shalom - SCCRR

"We resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood" - Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and Pope Francis, Abu Dhabi Declaration on Human Fraternity 2019

Radicalisation and extremism, particularly in its association with religious-ideology, have become a global problem. There were 7,841 attacks in 48 countries in 2017 and at least 84,023 people in 66 countries died during the year because of this problem according to the 2018 Annual Report of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

A total of 121 violent groups were active in 2017. Of these, 92 perpetrated violence in at least one country. Nigeria's Boko Haram, Mali's Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin and Kenya's Al-Shabaab attacks demonstrated the fluidity of violence across African. Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) is not for the faint hearted and demands expertise in its interventions. History has demonstrated, and unfortunately continues to do so, that radicalization and extremism are not confined to any one religion or ideological expression.

Although radicalisation and extremism have resulted in deaths, maiming, displacement, disruption of development, instilled fear, suspicion and tension among communities, there is grave inadequacy, even at the international level, in curbing the underlying causes of these horrific phenomena. Informed by the negative impact of radicalisation and religious extremism on both human and national security in the region, Shalom-SCCRR is developing, assiduously, a long-term project framework that will contribute significantly to their transformation.

In recent weeks, Fr Patrick Devine PhD, Executive Chairman of Shalom-SCCRR was invited by the organisation's conflict transformation and peace-building professionals to present on theoretical perspectives and dynamics to enhance the organisation's strategic interventions. The key issues in his presentation revolved around 'process dynamics' along the tolerance-intolerance continuum. This entailed scrutinizing the negative radicalisation regressions that lead to fundamentalism, to non-violent extremism, and eventually to manifest violent extremism operationalised in terrorism. Within this context, analytical frameworks were posited to research and identify causes and drivers of radicalisation-extremism, particularly in Eastern Africa. Significant attention was also apportioned to appropriate strategies to counter and transform this phenomenon.

According to Dr Devine, "interventions need to emerge from constant profound reflection on relevant theoretical perspective and experience in the field, which is monitored, evaluated, reported on, and learned from. Strategies must be structured with sensitivity, empowering local influential opinion shapers - government, civil, religious etc., - to be the architects of progressive peaceful coexistence. This will involve moving beyond just dialogue ('Dia'), and the dialogue about dialogue, to 'Dia-Praxis'. Dia-Praxis focusses on substantive practical interventions by community actors from all faiths, working together, to counter religious ideological extremism. It is moving from talking the talk to jointly walking the walk, requiring insertion into the breeding grounds of negative radicalisation. The guiding vision and implementation should be proactively positive in orientation and outlook. In this regard, at a minimum, it is about generating communities underpinned by inalienable human rights, tolerance and inclusivity in the pursuit of positive peace."

Through Shalom-SCCRR's conflict transformation and peace-building interventions in Eastern Africa, the organisation is well aware that radicalisation and religious extremism are posing increasing challenges. Shalom-SCCRR's research findings, particularly since extremist attacks in Kenya, for example at Garissa University in 2015 when 147 students were killed, revealed that the following social factors have exacerbated radicalisation and religious extremism: under-development and poverty; youth bulge and unemployment; weak state structures and discriminatory law enforcement; religionisation of politics and politicisation of religion; media and globalisation impact; easy access to weapons; and increase in sources of funding.

The Shalom-SCCRR team recognises that while research on drivers of radicalisation continues to focus on insights into underlying causes, one factor is cross-cutting all suggested explanations: inter-personal relationships, ie: individual, peer, family, group connections. Gaining peer significance and higher social respect through membership of a radicalised peer group are important variables underpinning the motivations of people engaging in radical extremism processes.

Furthermore, bearing in mind social context and prevailing ideologies, the power of peer pressure is multi-faceted and can be expressed through fear of victimisation and dreadful repercussions from extremist groups in the area. This peer issue can be fuelled by a shared identity influenced by a variety of factors, including religions' institutional structure and interpretation of scripture. Dr Devine points out that "when the safe-guarding of religious institutions becomes more important than the authentic purity of their transcendental message and associated values, many forms of violence and abuse emerge in society."

There is likewise much wisdom in the perspective of Tony Blair that "unless decision-makers fully engage in the battle of ideas and tackle extremists' totalitarian thinking, violence will continue to spread" - see First Annual Global Extremism Monitor Report by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. Shalom-SCCRR insertions are about such engagements at the grassroots.

The Shalom-SCCRR team's direction going forward considers it imperative for the organisation to establish an elaborate intervention strategy that will contribute in the transformation of a society at all levels - personal, relational, structural, religious dia-praxis and cultural. The strategy should involve empowerment of key influential stakeholders in the relevant social milieus' with analytical skills and techniques to transform situations of radicalisation and extremism.

In the conceptual development and implementation dynamics of this project, Shalom-SCCRR will engage with national government structures at all levels and partner with IGAD and AMECEA in the wider Eastern African region. Ultimately, Shalom-SCCRR's intervention will involve moving from the podium of talk and the ink of literature to insertion and engagement with the 'breeding grounds' of radicalisation and extremism. Prudence, research and expertise cannot be over-estimated in this strategic endeavour.

(See article by Dr Patrick Devine, 'Radicalization and Extremism in Eastern Africa; Dynamics and Drivers', published in the Journal of Mediation and Applied Conflict Analysis, 2017, Vol. 4, No. 2)


Paulson Erot Tadeo, MA, Program Manager (Peace-building & Development, Northern Kenya Program)
Esther Njeri Kibe, MA, Program Officer (Marsabit Project)
Asha Awed Said, MA Candidate, Program Assistant (Samburu & Nairobi Projects)

For further information about Shalom - SCCRR see:

Tags: Kenya, Shalom, radicalisation, Boko Haram, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, Al-Shabaab

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